$35M vineyard estate could be Napa’s biggest deal ever
Former AOL CEO selling 34-acre site with wine operation, residential compound
A 34-acre vineyard estate and residential compound built and owned by former AOL CEO Barry Schuler may be Napa’s biggest sale ever, according to listing agent Cyd Greer of Coldwell Banker, who recently listed the property at $35 million. The biggest sale in the county in the last five years is the 2021 sale of 40 acres with a mansion and vineyard for $18.5 million, according to Redfin.
Greer said she had to “deconstruct” the listing to comp the property, determining the value for the estate’s 23 acres of income-producing cabernet and petit verdot grapes and adding that to the value of its three residential properties, including a main house with more than 11,000 square feet and a dramatic “winged” roof line, plus the “rarity factor” of finding both elements in one property.
“I’ve done this 19 years and this is a standout,” Greer said. “You rarely see this combination of a landmark residence and super-high-end vineyard.”
Greer could not confirm the owners of 2181 North Third Avenue or say why they were interested in selling, citing privacy concerns, but public records show Schuler bought the property in 1998. He and his wife Tracy began planting grapes on the property the following year, according to the website for their wine brand, Meteor Vineyard. It is named after Medior, the multimedia development company Schuler co-founded, according to the site, which was acquired by AOL in 1995. He became chairman and CEO in 2000 when AOL bought Time Warner, but he left a few years later and is currently a venture capitalist and education reform advocate, in addition to a winemaker.
The Meteor Vineyard brand is also for sale for an additional, undisclosed, price, Greer said. But her clients are “neutral” about whether or not it is sold with the property as part of the final contract. The vineyard also has “very lucrative” contracts with several other wine brands in Napa, she said, who prize the property for its mix of ash, clay and cobble soil.
Interested parties so far have been split between “lifestyle” residential buyers and those already in the wine industry, she said. The latter would likely use the 2004-completed “post-modern Asian”-style main home for entertaining and housing VIP and celebrity guests, she said.
Positioned to provide views of both the vineyards and an oak grove, with one massive specimen more than 500 years old, the home was built using rammed earth, the same structural material as the Great Wall of China, to mimic the sedimentary layer look of canyons and cliffsides. It was designed by Seattle-based architect Jim Cutler, who was perhaps thinking of the wet weather of his hometown when he designed the V-winged roofline, which creates several waterfalls into the home’s koi pond when it rains. There’s also a swimming pool and spa with a bluestone terrace, a guest house with its own heated plunge pool and a studio for art or yoga.
A second architect, Berkeley concrete artist Fu Tung Cheng, was commissioned to design the main home’s kitchen with polished concrete counters that contain “fossils and artifacts that are a nod to personal waypoints,” according to the listing notes.
Greer said several artifacts were uncovered during the home’s excavation process, including pieces that belonged to the Chinese workers who built the first walls on the property during the Gold Rush era. Some remnants of those walls remain on the property, she said, which first belonged to Napa founder Nathan Coombs as part of his ranching estate in the mid-1800s.
Today’s titans of industry may be more interested in the home’s location near the Napa airport and downtown Napa restaurants and shops, as well its position about 40 miles outside San Francisco. She said luxury buyers from as close as the city and as far as Asia have been interested since it came on the market and were “not as sensitive” to the economic and political factors that have led to a market slowdown, even on the luxury end, in the rest of the Bay Area.
“These are buyers looking for their second, third or fourth homes,” she said.